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Dark Pharaoh

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7
Go to the Run, Fight or Die! page

Run, Fight or Die!

59 out of 88 gamers thought this was helpful

‘Run, Fight’ or Die!’ is a great little press-your-luck dice-rolling game that will scratch the ***************** itch without a huge investment in either setup or play time. Even with many players, the turns pass quickly, without the feeling of downtime associated with other zombie apocalypse games.

The components are cool, from the plastic miniature zombies to the customized dice. The artwork on the cards and boards is nice, edging toward the humurous rather than the horrific. The rules are simple and easy to learn and the game is great fun for adults and kids, alike.

 
Go to the Fortress America page

Fortress America

83 out of 153 gamers thought this was helpful

Pretty colors.

Pretty pieces.

Go America!

Too short….

“Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

“On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

“Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

9
Go to the Risk: Legacy page

Risk: Legacy

61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

Let me preface this review by saying that I was never a Risk fan. I detested the game as a kid. Now an adult, I haven’t played Risk in well over 20 years. It is one of the few games that I would unequivocally refuse to play.

I was intrigued by Risk: Legacy’s premise when I first heard of it; and after watching a few reviews, I put out the money to purchase a copy. Now, nearly a year later, it has finally made it to the table.

How Were the Components?

Without going into a listing of the individual components, let me just say that they are, typical of most modern Risk games, pretty good. Each faction, of which there are five, has unique troop figures representing 1-pont and 3-point armies in addition to a headquarters piece. The figures nicely represent the unique flavor of each faction.

The game board and side board are sturdy and of good quality. The artwork is clean and unimposing, and suits the overall theme and storyline of the game.

The dice are dice… though the rationale behind using black for attack and red for defense eludes me.

The territory/resource cards are okay. Simple and Spartan. Not of great stock, so I expect they will begin to show wear and tear soon enough if I do not sleeve them, but not so flimsy as to make me feel they are of inferior production.

There are also a number of stickers that come with the game which, as the game progresses, are meant to be applied to the game board, faction cards, and resource cards. Here is my main beef with the game’s components. One 8×11-ish sheet of stickers is included with a number stickers to be used before and/or after each game. These are fine. The stickers peel off easily and, when applied, adhere well to the board. However, a number of other stickers come on cardboard cards to be used at various times when certain events occur within the game. These stickers – at least in my copy of the game – were terrible. In all but one instance, none of them would peel away from the card. Instead, the “label” portion of the sticker simple ripped off the back of the “sticky” part of the sticker. Fortunately it did it with such consistency that the labels didn’t tear. I resorted to taping them to the board or faction cards and plan to glue them down later.

How Was the Game Play?

On the one hand, this is still Risk. Place your troops. Move your troops. Roll your dice. Rinse and repeat. The simplicity of Risk’s mechanics is a strong factor influencing my distaste for the game. That aspect, in Risk Legacy, is no better or worse than it is in previous iterations. On the other hand, the overall game play objective has changed significantly… and this is definitely for the better!

The ‘Total Annihilation, Last Man Standing’ drudgery of classic Risk is gone; replaced by a victory point system which manifests in the form of Red Stars. Your faction need merely acquire four of these Red Star VPs to claim immediately victory. This system drastically changes the dynamic and flow of the game, and the fact that everyone starts each game with one or two Red Stars just adds fuel to the fire. This mechanism leads to more dramatic and intensive conflict, and much quicker victory; victory which can be achieved without player elimination or faction annihilation – though, let’s face it, the latter is so much more fun.

Okay, So What Else is Different?

Risk: Legacy has a few additional rules that alter the gaming experience from that of classic Risk, but not in significant ways. Troop recruitment is more streamlined. Resource cards do not have to be matched in sets. Though some have differing values – denoted by coin icons – when you turn in cards, you merely count the total number of coins and collect a specified allocation of troops. Players that have won previous games receive missiles in lieu of a bonus Red Star. These missiles are one-off abilities which permit the player to influence a single die result in any combat. Factions may rejoin the war effort if all troops are lost but a valid start location still remains available on the game board.

Then What’s the Big Deal?

Okay, to the meat of the matter… the “legacy” in Risk: Legacy. This is awesome! The ability to change and shape the game in permanent ways is just plain cool. Though my players were initially reluctant to put stickers on the board or to rip up cards, we soon overcame such reservations and began to look forward to the next great revelation the game had to offer. Each new rules addition… each new faction power… opens new realms of tactical and strategic thought for future games and as imminent defeat draws near, one finds oneself already contemplating different choices in the next game.

What’s the Verdict?

With a full complement of five players, we played two games in quick succession and only the late hour and parental commitments broke the group up before a third. With the exception of one player, who played the sour pus and merely fortified all of his troops to his home territory and strive for a “held on” outcome (versus “eliminated”), we all had a blast playing. The game is fun… actually fun. The shortened duration of the games avoids boredom and drudgery. An eliminated player may possibly rejoin the war, or, if not, it will probably be over soon anyway, so he will be able to play again in the next one. In Risk: Legacy, you look forward to unraveling the mysteries hidden within the sealed envelopes. You look forward to your next game. At no time did I feel the old desire to claw my own eyes out, a desire so prevalent during my yonder days of classic Risk.

8
Go to the Targi page

Targi

127 out of 135 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview

Targi is a two-player, worker-placement game which plays in about an hour. Players take on the roles of tribal leaders seeking to gain resources and form alliances with neighboring tribes. The game plays for 12 rounds or until one or both players have acquired 12 tribes. Players strive to attain the most victory points (VPs) by the end of the game.

The Gist (or, What’s this Game About?)

The tableau consists of 25 cards, arranged in a 5 x 5 play area. The outer edge is comprised of 16 permanent Border cards which provide set abilities or goods throughout the game. The inner 3 x 3 play area is comprised of random, alternating Goods and Tribe cards. As cards are acquired, Goods cards are replaced with Tribe cards, and vice versa.

Players compete by strategically placing their action pawns (called Targi) to acquire gold and goods and to “purchase” tribes, with the goal of obtaining the most victory points by game’s end. VPs are gained in several ways, but the bulk will be derived from the various Tribe cards.

The Catch (or, What Makes this Game Cool?)

Players cannot simply place their Targi on the Goods or Tribe cards they desire. Instead, Targis may only be placed on 12 of the 16 border permanent Border cards. The Goods and Tribe cards which the players can then potentially claim are determined by the intersection of the rows and columns occupied by their Targis. In all but the direst circumstances, Targi placement will result in two intersections, which are marked with Tribe markers in the player’s color.

Furthermore, by placing a Targi figure at either end of a row or column, the player lays claim to that entire line of cards, for an opponent cannot play a Targi on the same row or column. It is this mechanism that creates the strategic and tactical choices which make Targi a great game.

Components & Production Value

Targi comes with wooden figures and markers, cards, and cardboard tokens. The wooden components consist of 3 Targi figures and two cylindrical Tribe markers in each of the player colors (white & blue) and 1 neutral Robber figure. The figures are simple and functional, neither enhancing nor detracting from the aesthetics of the game.

The cards include the 16 permanent Border cards which frame the play area (and are conveniently numbered 1-16). These cards are printed front and back, with one side including written instructions for how the card operates. This facilitates the ease of learning the game, but after a few plays, the non-text sides can be used, eliminating “clutter” and making for a cleaner tableau. The remaining cards consist of a small deck of Goods cards and a larger deck of Tribe cards, both of which are used throughout play. The card stock is acceptable, though not exceptional, and the art is simple and unobtrusive. Each good and tribe type is illustrated by a single image, which is more than an icon, but less than a picture. The neutral background of the cards carries through the game’s desert theme.

The cardboard tokens consist of large round pieces representing gold coins; smaller round pieces representing the three goods (salt, pepper, and dates); a handful of custom-shaped Victory Point tokens (indicative of tribal jewelry); and finally, a larger first-player “necklace” token. The tokens are thick and durable, but bear the same simple art style of the cards.

While there is nothing over-the-top or particularly note-worthy regarding the production quality of the game, therein lays a hidden truth: the simplicity of the art and iconography gives Targi a degree of elegance that might otherwise have suffered from excess.

Learning Curve

Targi is simple to learn and easy to play. Though more tactical decisions inevitably open up with experience, the most complex thing to grasp for a new player will be the various Tribe abilities and bonuses and the bonus victory points for acquiring similar or different tribes.

Setup

Setup is straight-forward and easy. The 16 permanent Border cards are laid out in order, forming the frame of the play area. The Robber is placed on card #1. Then, five Goods cards and 4 Tribes cards are dealt out in a 3 x 3 alternating sequence to finish off the starting tableau. Players choose their colors and retrieve their Targi and Tribe markers, along with their starting resources: 4 Victory Points, 1 Gold, and 2 each of Pepper, Salt, and Dates.

Starting player is whoever has last eaten dates… or the Blue player.

Gameplay

Targi has a built in timer, limiting a game to 12 rounds. The Robber, which starts on Card 1, moves each round in a clockwise fashion. When the Robber reaches Card 16, the game ends. The corner cards (4, 8, 12, and 16) are “raid” locations which cost the players goods or VPs. The Robber does not stop on these spots, but merely passes through, triggering their effects. The game will end earlier if, at the end of a round, any player has acquired his 12th tribe.

As the Robber moves, it “blocks” the card it occupies, preventing either player from placing Targis there. This becomes an additional obstacle that players must take into consideration when planning their actions and strategies.

As Tribes are acquired, players place them in their own play area, forming a new tableau which can, ultimately, contain up to 3 rows of 4 cards each. Tribes must be placed from left to right in a given row, and cannot normally be moved after placement. This generates tactical considerations as many tribal abilities and victory point bonuses are dependent upon the position of the tribes within the tableau.

Tactics & Strategy

There are a few key elements that must be considered with any Targi strategy:

First and foremost – tribal acquisition. Tribe cards come in different flavors and offer varying VPs and bonus abilities. Choosing which Tribe cards to include in your tableau (and which to prevent your opponent from acquiring) is crucial.

Secondly – resource management. The rules limit the amount of gold and goods you can hoard, and it takes time to accumulate them. Gold is particularly difficult to come by and should not be squandered, but even salt, pepper, and dates must be expended judiciously.

Thirdly – blocking. Using your Targi to effectively block your opponent’s actions while fulfilling your own requires constant focus and cunning and is a vital aspect of the game.

Scoring

Scoring is relatively simple and primarily determined at end-game. One particular Goods card grants an immediate victory point, and one of the permanent Border cards permits a player to trade goods or gold for victory points, but the majority of VPs will come from the Tribe cards acquired by the players during play.

Each Tribe card is, itself, worth 1 – 3 VPs. Some Tribe cards grant additional VPs if certain other tribes are in the player’s tableau, or dependent upon their own position in the tableau. Finally, for each row that contains 4 of the same type of tribe, 4 bonus VPs are earned; while for each row that contains 4 different tribes, 2 bonus VPs are earned.

Player Interaction

Player interaction is limited primarily to blocking maneuvers to keep your opponent from obtaining cards that will benefit his position. While the interaction is limited, it is also constant. Every turn you will find yourself seeking opportunities to disrupt your opponent’s plans while furthering your own. This creates tension and excitement.

Final Thoughts

Targi is an excellent game, offering fun and tight gameplay with just the right amount of strategic and tactical depth in a short play time. Though it lacks visual flair, it is not without charm, and the austere artwork promotes the desert atmosphere and theme.

9
Go to the Trajan page

Trajan

75 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

Overview

Trajan is set against a Roman backdrop in which players participate in various aspects of Roman life to acquire victory points. It is a deep and heavy game and presents many unique mechanisms that combine to provide a complex and engaging gaming experience.

Components & Production Quality

Trajan has no dearth of components, which come mainly in the form of cardboard tiles. These cardboard tiles are sturdy and functional, consisting of simple iconic imagery that serves its purpose well, but adds little to the overall thematics of the game. The tiles are primarily squares of two distinct sizes (a larger size used for the Trajan actions and a smaller size used for all of the board-placement activities). Both are well-sized, neither too large nor too small. Two other tile categories deserve particular note: the shipping tiles used for the Seaport action are fashioned in the shape of sailing vessels and are double-sided, presenting two distinct opportunities for players; and the bonus scoring tiles – randomly drawn from a bag throughout the game – which are tablet-shaped and, likewise, double-sided, providing differing degrees of potential.

In addition to the cardboard tiles, Trajan utilizes a quantity of wooden tokens and pieces which form the primary interactive elements for the players. The most prominent of these pieces is the large Arch of Trajan, which provides the most tactile and impressive component of the game, but unfortunately, serves a limited function. Meeples representing the legionnaires and workers at the players’ disposal, and the discs which track scoring and other measures of accomplishment, are standard fare, but suitable implementations for the mechanics of the game. Finally, the octagonal action markers, of which the players receive a set of 12 (2 each of 6 different colors), are uninspiring in and of themselves, but form the focus of the players’ interaction with the game.

The only remaining components of note are the commodity cards used for shipping and scoring actions. With simple art matching that of the aforementioned tiles, they are functional – thematic, even – but lack artistic depth or appeal.

The main game board is large, with ample space to place the many components which occupy it throughout the various stages of the game. The layout and design is pleasing, offering a Romanesque tableau with pastel, subdued coloring. This color palette and artistic presentation help prevent the busy board from seeming overbearing and intimidating, though I feel the neutral tone sacrifices a degree of immersion that might otherwise be obtained. All in all, however, the board is wonderfully laid out and spacious, permitting all of the core areas to be accessed and analyzed with ease.

The individual player boards comprise the last aspect of game play. Like the main game board, the player boards are well designed to accommodate the many tiles and tokens that are necessary for play without being too cramped or busy. The player boards are more spartan than the main board, lacking any immersive imagery other than the iconography already incorporated into the various tiles, but this serves its purpose well enough.

Ultimately, while the components and artwork are suggestive of the Roman theme presented by Trajan, they lend themselves more toward a utilitarian starkness which doesn’t deliver on a deep thematic experience, yet still presents a well-conceived aesthetic that helps makes this heavy game more approachable.

Setup

Setup for a game of Trajan is a somewhat unruly beast, but it is a beast that can be tamed. Trajan tiles must be separated and placed into similar stacks, construction and forum tiles must be randomized and distributed across the board, commodity cards must be shuffled and formed into draw and discard decks, bonus tiles must be randomized within the linen draw bag. On the individual player boards, the octagonal action markers must be placed in two’s on the six available “bowls” of the action circle.

Further complicating the setup process, however, is that certain actions must be performed in a certain order. Action markers must be placed before players may select their starting Trajan tiles. Starting bonus tiles must be drawn before additional bonus tiles are allocated to the Senate action spot on the main game board. The commodity decks must be established before player’s draw their initial allotment of commodities. And before all of that, a randomly selected start player must be determined (by any method the players like).

This is not as onerous as it all seems, and with repetition becomes easier, but is a factor of consideration. I have yet to setup a game without having to fall back to the rulebook to insure something has not been overlooked, but for any suitably complex game that offers the variety which Trajan does, setup will always be a chore.

The Mancala

The mancala… intriguing… intimidating.
The heart and soul of Trajan.
A game within a game.
A puzzle.
Thematic? Not really.
Fun? Absolutely.

The mancala is the core mechanic of Trajan that makes the game more than just a worker placement game. It is the very essence of Trajan and in all likelihood the deciding factor on whether you love Trajan or you hate Trajan.

I will not venture to explain the pure mechanics involved with moving the action markers about, but rather strive to illuminate its impact on the game. The mancala covers two key components of game play, but only one of these is critical to victory.

First and foremost, the mancala determines which of the six core actions you may take on your turn. By manipulating your action markers from one bowl to another, you will end on one that will permit you to perform an action (hopefully the action you want to perform and strategically manipulated your way towards). Manipulating the mancala in this manner is simpler and easier than it would, at first, seem.

The second function of the mancala – and, by far, the trickier – is placement of the vari-colored action markers into specific bowls by which to score Trajan tiles. This is the puzzle the mancala presents. Each Trajan tile requiring two action markers of specific color to be present in the bowl when the action space is triggered. Here one must plan ahead… strategize… even plot. A miscalculation in marker placement utterly ruin your plans… or, perhaps, merely throw them off by several turns.

Though the mancala presents itself an imposing foe, it is far easier to manipulate than one may first think, and a player can generally achieve any desired action with little planning or difficulty. Activating the Trajan tiles with proper action marker placement is more difficult, but less vital to achieving victory. Though the bonus and opportunities presented by the Trajan tiles are nothing to ignore, they are, in general, less influential on final scoring than proper play of the main game board actions.

Gameplay

Trajan is all about the acquisition of victory points, and this is based upon two factors: time and action. The full game is divided into four quarters of a year in Roman life, with each quarter marked by the passing of four rounds, each of which comprises a complete cycle of the time marker. The total number of positions available on the time marker is dependent on the number of players, but the passage of time is not a steady progression, but rather a variable dependent upon the movement of action markers on the players’ mancalas. The more action markers moved, the faster time progresses. This is an ingenious mechanism drawing upon both thought and luck rather than on individual action. Thus, on one turn a given activity may only advance the time marker once, while on another turn, the same action may advance the time marker by 6 or more places.

The actions available to players thematically cover six aspects of Roman life, each offering opportunity to garner victory points. It is among and within these actions that the true beauty and complexity of Trajan comes alive. The actions are well-balanced, and none present a sure path to victory. Though all paths need not be pursued, none may be wantonly ignored, less an opponent achieve unhindered dominance and an easy path to victory. Furthermore, the game interweaves the actions through the various tiles, resulting in more strategic depth: a tile acquired via military action may contribute toward a senatorial victory; an extra action tile won in the forum may permit additional shipping actions. This interplay of free and extra actions is vital to a well-planned strategy.

The actions available to players are Seaport, Forum, Senate, Military, Construction, and Trajan. Due to the cleverness designed into the actions, each is almost a mini-puzzle unto itself, requiring forethought and, in some cases, multiple turns to reap rewards.

The Seaport action provides the players an opportunity to acquire commodity cards, ship commodities for victory points, or put cards into their personal play area for later scoring. This requires a multi-staged approach, as it may take several turns to acquire the variety of commodities necessary for a successful shipping venture, for commodity cards are only acquired one or two at a time. The victory points attained through the Seaport action, however, are not insignificant and well worth the time investiture.

The Forum action is the most straight-forward of all. Simply select a tile of one’s choice from those available in the Forum area of the game board. There are not limitations or restrictions in place… no “mini-game” to contend with. One need only consider the benefits offered by the available tiles and choose according to strategy and opportunity.

The Senate action, too, is relatively straight-forward. Take the action, move forward on the Senate track, gain immediate victory points, and, if you have the most votes at the end of the round, gain a bonus tile. Rinse and repeat. The senatorial race is only complicated by the fact that additional votes beyond those earned by one’s position on the Senate track may be acquired via the Forum and/or Military actions.

The Military action permits players to conquer the barbarian lands north of the Italian peninsula, gaining spoils of war and victory points along the way. A successful military career in Trajan requires focus and commitment, however, as it will take many turns to recruit one’s legionnaires, maneuver one’s leader, and consolidate one’s forces for scoring. A less focused military strategy will garner quick rewards here and there, but true military dominance requires discipline.

The Construction action permits players to obtain tiles from the Construction area of the game board. The first of each type of construction tile acquired (of which there are five different types) gains the player a bonus action. Each acquired tile also grants an immediate victory point reward. Beyond that, the Construction action is about set collection. Sets of 3 or 4 tiles garner significant end-game victory points. The “puzzle” offered by the Construction action is that, as with the Military action, one must recruit workers, and after the first worker is placed, subsequent workers must be placed in adjacent spots. This requires thought as to where best to place and expand one’s workforce to obtain the tiles desired.

Finally, the Trajan action… the Trajan action serves only to permit players to select additional Trajan tiles from those available on the main game board and place them around the mancala (following strict placement rules). While the Trajan action itself presents no puzzle, the Trajan tiles and mancala form the over-arching puzzle that infuses the entire game.

Final Thoughts

Trajan is an incredible game that offers deep strategic choices and an engrossing gaming experience. The interactions presented by the mancala combine with the interplay of the various actions to present a unique, complex, and heavy adventure in the Roman age. Trajan is not for the faint of heart, and I would have loved a more immersive, thematic experience, but I find nothing inherent to the game that is not commendable.

7
Go to the Rampage page

Rampage

22 out of 23 gamers thought this was helpful

Rampage is a pretty remarkable game on many levels. It has outstanding visual appeal, plenty of tactile presence, and an overall charm that tugs at the inner-city-destroying-monster in all of us. Though I loathe dexterity games, the spectacular gameplay and satisfying mechanics of Rampage do not repel me.

At it’s heart, Rampage is a child’s game, with visual theatrics akin to Mousetrap. This is not a bad thing, as the game, like Mousetrap, can be very enjoyable with an age-appropriate crowd. And finally my eight-year-old nephew can happily knock components of the gameboard or even onto the floor without reprimand. But it lacks any strategic or tactical depth with which to commend its play among more mature gamers. However, even among the maturity-challenged the game seems to have a limited lifespan.

Over the course of a few plays my nephew’s interest in the scoring methodologies gradually dwindled until “winning” was no longer a consideration of his at all. His focus remained on the destructive nature of the game… wanting to be the first to “death-from-above” the various buildings. I find this similar to the typical child-like reaction to Mousetrap, whereby triggering the trap and watching the resulting chain reaction is far more entertaining than playing the actual game.

On a more objective note, the gameplay mechanics, themselves, prove to be both pros and cons of the game. While dropping the monster figures from above and flicking discs and vehicles is all fine and dandy, they have limited appeal and quickly become repetitive and even frustrating. The vehicles add an additional complication, as trying to balance and aim the wooden tokens atop the monsters’ heads is a chore in and of itself.

The blowing mechanic, however, is the worst.While arguably the most unique and interesting mechanic of the entire game, it ultimately fails to deliver on several levels. First and foremost, there is the sanitary consideration. Even my nephew, who still eats his boogers, was put off by the possible cooties that would inevitably infect the monsters and gameboard. Secondly, the action is awkward. For smaller bodies, the action is only really viable from the edges of the board (and even then requiring it to be rotated for optimal accessibility)… and for larger bodies… well, let’s just say my back hates me after I blow a house down. Adding insult to injury, on one embarrassing attempt, the awkward nature of the activity led to me inadvertently blowing it out both ends, much to my chagrin and my nephew’s delight.

While there is a lot for which to commend Rampage – and I have no regrets over its purchase – it ultimately fails to deliver an ongoing enjoyment in the likes of King of Tokyo or even Munchkin (my nephew’s favorite game).

The artistic style and visual aspects of Rampage are excellent. The components are clever and well-suited to the cartoonish and tongue-in-cheek nature of the game. And the gameplay is hilarious and enjoyable, in the short-term.

10
Go to the Vinhos page

Vinhos

17 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

OVERVIEW

Vinhos is a magnificent game by designer Vital Lacerda, vintage 2010, for 2-4 players. Under the guyise of Portuguese winemakers, players strive to gain the most victory points over a period of six years by developing estates, selling wines, earning money, and winning illustrious wine fairs.

COMPONENTS & PRODUCTION QUALITY

Vinhos is a beautiful game with spectacular artwork. The board, although overwhelming at first glance, drips with wine-making theme, and the individual components add small doses of flavor and immersion.

The game’s components come in two varieties: wooden pieces and cardboard tokens. The wooden pieces come in five distinct flavors: cubes for tracking Renown, cylinders representing the Taxation Marker and player Action Markers, meeple-people representing the Enologists (wine scientists) that may be purchased in-game, discs to track players’ positions on various areas of the board, and – most thematic of all – wine barrels to mark certain actions taken within the game.

The cardboard tokens – of which there are many – are printed double-sided on good quality, thick cardboard. In most cases, the two sides relay different information, so it is not just duplicated imagery. With the exception of the Wine Feature markers used at the Wine Fair, the cardboard components are all nicely sized and well-suited to each token’s intended purpose. The Wine Feature markers, on the other hand, are small, round tokens, reminiscent of a disposable punched-out portion of some other token. I fear these four tokens to be easily misplaced or lost and have replaced them with more thematic and larger objects in my own game (namely miniature wine bottles).

The Wine Quality markers, the second-smallest of the tokens, prove less troublesome in play. They are printed red-wine on one side and white-wine on the other, simplifying the matter of finding the needed value without the additional burden of also having to match color. There are also plenty of them. Even when playing a four-player game, I have never come close to running out of a particular value.

Money in Vinhos comes in the form of Bagos and is represented by rectangular, dollar-like tokens in denominations of 1, 2 and 5. The tokens are small, giving no substantiality to the acquisition of cash in the game, but it is functional, and as it is difficult to hoard cash, its presence need not be more substantial. Still, the Bagos components could be easily substituted, and metal coins or more impressive “cash” might enhance the gaming experience.

RULES & IMPLEMENTATION

The Vinhos board is iconography-driven and, essentially, language-independent. Although it will take a new player some time to become completely comfortable with the iconography, the limited number of available actions and activities in the game prevent the iconography from becoming ornerous or overbearing. Though a thorough understand of the rules is needed by at least one player, the game can be taught to new players well-enough simply by explaining the action spaces and their associated iconography.

The Vinhos rulebook, itself, is colorful and well laid out, with useful illustrations and ample examples. The rules are clear and concise, but there are a number of areas where the complexity and nuance of the game may cause confusion or simply go overlooked. These areas require a careful reading (or multiple readings, even) to get a firm grasp on them. In particular, the use of the Wine Managers and their bonus actions is core to game play, yet may be the most “complex” and intimidating aspect of the game for a new player. This area should be thoroughly understood.

Additional areas that may be misunderstood or overlooked include:

• When performing the Sales and Export actions, a player is not limited to selling or exporting only a single barrel of wine.
• At the end of the game, after the final Wine Fair, players take turns placing barrels on the various Wine Manager scoring areas. This may be done any number of times, so long as the player has wine and barrels to spare.
• With the exception of divesting, all activities that affect banking either add to or subtract from the player’s bank account directly. The only way to get cash from the bank (other than divesting) is to perform a Bank action.

SETUP

Due to the amount of components that must be placed out on the board, it takes a few games to get setup under your belt. After that, it actually becomes fairly quick and easy, as most everything has its place. The wine and bagos (money) tokens generally sit in piles off-board. Initial player order can be determined by any means, but under the variant rules included with the game (which I encourage be utilized), the actual first player will be decided by vineyard purchase at the beginning of the game.

GAMEPLAY

Gameplay in Vinhos takes place over six years of game time, during which time players take turns performing actions. During each year, players are able to perform two actions, and the year is then followed by a banking/maintenance phase, and a wine producing phase. An additional Wine Fair phase occurs at the end of years 2, 5, and 6.

This structure limits a game of Vinhos to 12 actions, although bonus actions can be obtained by establishing relationships with the Wine Managers and obtaining their services by expending wine. This is a crucial aspect of any sound strategy, as the Wine Managers can provide up to 10 additional actions over the course of the game (and possibly more at end-game scoring).

There are nine actions available to players, which streamline the game very well. The Wine Manager bonus actions provide duplication or slight variations on six of these core actions. Each action is a self-contained and fundamental aspect of the overall game and none can truly be considered “optional”. Due to limited number of actions available during the game, maximizing efficiency by minimizing the number of times one performs each activity is an important consideration, as is the timing of when to perform any given action.

With the exception of the Press Release, the individual actions are fairly intuitive and simple to use. Some of the activities may be performed a number of times when the action is selected, which, in most cases, is indicated on the board. The Press Release action, on the other hand, initiates several sub-activities and, for new players, may be the most “analysis paralysis”-invoking moments of the game.

TACTICS & STRATEGY

Vinhos is a game about victory points. In the end, it’s not who produces the best wines or who wins the most fairs that determines the winner, but rather who garners the most victory points. And victory points can be achieved in numerous aways. This is both a pro and a con for the game. For those players that enjoy multiple tactical and strategic choices for victory, Vinhos delivers; but for those players that new a more defined path to victory, the myriad options can be daunting.

Furthermore, some victory points are scored immediately, in a “first come, first serve” or “winner take all” fashion, where others only score at the end of the game based on overall performance. This adds a degree of “use it or lose it” mentality to decision making, particularly in the late game, and may also dictate a need to block other players by taking a position that scores you few victory points, yet might otherwise win them many.

The variety of the vineyards leans toward certain styles of play which, along with the multiple paths to victory, insures Vinhos a degree of replayability.

Final Thoughts

Vinhos is a very thematic game and the wino in me can’t help but want to pour a large glass of Cabernet or Reisling (I know, not Portuguese) prior to game play. The fixed number of turns limits game time to a suitable degree (although “analysis paralysis” can still rear its ugly head), and a two-player game can be undertaken in under 90 minutes.

Although the publishers must consider plastic baggies as suitable storage (as they included a handful of them in my copy), the number of components included in the game make Vinhos beg for custom storage. A few small- or one medium-sized modular storage case should suffice.

Vinhos is a fun and enjoyable game for any number of players. Though the obstacles and strategy of a 2-player game differ from that of a 3- or 4-player game, then fun and satisfaction is in no way diminished.

Pros

Highly thematic.
Complex, if you like that kind of thing.
Playing time 2 players < 90 minutes.
Many paths to victory.

Cons

Heavy.and intimidating to new players.
Complex, if you hate that kind of thing.
Playing time 3-4 players > 2 hours.
Many paths to victory.

7
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City of Remnants

96 out of 105 gamers thought this was helpful

I have played City of Remnants only once, after much anticipation, having read and watched many preview articles and videos. I was disappointed by the gameplay in several key areas:

Gang Members

A core mechanic of the game involves the recruitment and utilization of various gang members, each of which offers differing strengths and weaknesses dependent upon which color player you are. The manner of recruitment provides an interesting approach, whereby a member may be recruited for free if no one bids against the current player, or the player can be outbid, losing the intended gang member, yet costing the out-of-turn player one his actions per turn.

The gang members themselves, however, are less impressive. There is not as much variety or uniqueness as I had expected, and the cards that stand out as must-haves are obviously so, whether to get them into your own gang for their benefits, or merely to keep them out of the hands of the more color-suited player.

I would have been more pleased with each gang member being a unique individual within the city, but, alas, there are only a few “named” individuals and a handful of duplicated roles.

Yugai Patrols

Another core element of the game is the Yugai, the alien enforces that have imprisoned and enslaved the players and gang members within the city. These aliens patrol the city throughout the game, posing unexpected raids and assaults, lest they be bought off with well-placed bribes.

I found the Yugai element to be weak. After the first round or two, when placing the Yugai patrol tokens bespoke of impending doom, that part of gameplay became tedious. Putting the tokens in the bag, pulling the tokens out of the bag. The repetition of the chore outweighed any sense of threat imparted by their presence. In fact, the Yugai patrols, though often posing an obstacle, never seemed to pose a true threat. There was no sense of needing to avoid them, as the patrols were random and often no where near where the player gangs are competing. In but a few cases, the patrols were easily dispatched or bribed, causing only minor inconvenience.

I would have preferred a more thematic experience of always being on the edge, covering ones tracks. A less random approach would have, perhaps, been better… knowing where they are, but that they are coming.

Perma-Death

This is the main mechanic of the game that appealed to me the most, and one that I actually enjoyed during gameplay: the permanent death of gang members when killed, forcing the discard of the recruit’s card from the game rather than to a discard pile. Though the mechanic worked at a fundamental level, my overall experience suggests an overall flaw in the game experience.

The game I played was only 2-player, and by the end we had recruited all available gang members and had begun to exhaust our hands of viable members through combat and attrition. I find it hard to imagine them lasting long in a 3- or 4-player game.

I reviewed this puzzlement afterwards and came across an article by the designer (or publisher) that basically said that if you focused too much on combat, you weren’t “getting the point of the game”.

Final Thoughts

Although intellectually I am still intrigued by the game and would like to play it a couple more times to test different strategies, I find that the single gameplay experience I have had has left no emotional desire to play the game again. I expect to at some future point, but have not found myself in any rush to do so.

I am hesitant to rate or judge the game based solely on this single gameplay, which would only grant it a so-so rating. I think I will approach it again with realised expectations and then try to judge whether it is, indeed, fun or not.

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